By: Frederic Murray
One of the benefits of writing for the Office of Intellectual Freedom, this past year, has been to recognize the amazing work done by a variety of people who continually promote and protect the right of free expression in this country. The work of advocating, facilitating and protecting intellectual freedoms is important activity, and is often carried out by everyday people. I thought it would be useful to speak with those whose work is dependent on intellectual freedom, and how libraries impact who they are and what they do. I was able to interview a Teacher, a Historian and an Artist for this writing project. Any errors in transcription are my own, all three guests to our blog were unfailingly generous with their time.
FM: Please introduce yourself:
AK: My name is Aishia M. King, and I am a high school English teacher and English Department Chair at Mary G. Montgomery High School in Semmes, AL. I was born and raised in Mobile, AL where I also currently reside. Throughout my career, I have been able to be recognized for and be a part of several initiatives. I am a 2014-2015 Teacher of the Year Recipient and currently serve on the State Superintendent Teacher Cabinet where I work with educators on improving education in Alabama. I was a 2013 panelist for Harvard University’s Black Policy Conference and I have been recognized by the National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS) as an Educator of Distinction.
FM: Thank you Ms. King, are you a library user? If so, what role do libraries play in your life?
AK: Since I am an English teacher, I rely heavily on library usage, not only for myself, but also for my students. Libraries have always been safe havens for me and a place where I know I can find the answers to whatever questions I have. Libraries are crucial in helping to preserve and maintain the intellectual capital of people around the world.
FM: What do you think lies at the root of censorship in the classroom? In general? In particular?
AK: In general, classroom censorship tends to focus on the focus and/or demands of the course curriculum and the vision of the school and school district. However, in particular, I believe that classroom censorship is based upon what information students are exposed to and how that information can possibly change their worldview. There is always a lot of angst around the impressionability of students and how that can be detrimental to how they function within their families and how they view the social structures in our world.
FM: Ms. King what do you see as the overriding issue, or issues, in intellectual freedom today? In the current political climate have your intellectual freedoms been affected?
AK: Intellectual freedom is not perceived how it once was due to the changes in how people share and access information. Bias and misinformation can be spread quickly, and without proper training on how to discern the credibility of information, many fall prey to believing what they “see” and “hear.” I do not see much of a desire for people to truly get an understanding of things they learn. I also do not see much of a desire to want to know as much as possible about a topic.
In this current political climate, there have been many attacks on the credibility of news which shows how much influence the sharing of “fake news” on social media has had on people today. As a teacher, I am constantly having students challenge information and/or want to support a premise with the thoughts shared on someone’s blog or on an entertainment page.
FM: How do you see libraries advancing, or preserving, our intellectual freedoms?
AK: I see libraries as the last stronghold of protection for intellectual freedom. There always needs to be a place that maintains the records of why this world is the amazing oasis of knowledge it is. I see libraries as being a place to advance the need for critical thinking and having a place for people to broaden their worldview. If done well and effectively, it is possible that the tide of misinformation will rescind and bring forth a fresh zeal for unadulterated, unfiltered knowledge.
FM: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to the readers of the Intellectual Freedom Blog, have a great school year.
AK: Thank you.
Frederic Murray is the head of Instructional Services at the Al Harris Library, Southwestern Oklahoma State University. He is a tenured faculty member and as an academic librarian has initiated the growth and expansion of information literacy classes across the campus curriculum. He has presented at state, national and international conferences in the areas of library pedagogy, digital textbooks, and the development of curriculum for Native American Studies. He serves as the managing editor for Administrative Issues Journal, a peer-reviewed, open access journal in its sixth year of publication. He believes deeply in the value of books and the inherent strength found in the human voice. Among his favorite authors are Lenny Bruce, Jimmy Santiago Baca and Carson McCullers. He can be reached at email@example.com